[OUTLOOK]Don’t change words so easily

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[OUTLOOK]Don’t change words so easily

Question for Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva: “I hear you were elected by proclaiming to be the president for workers and poor people, but aren’t you criticized as a traitor for pursuing policies for entrepreneurs?”
His answer: “Isn’t it quite a natural thing? Though the ‘union leader Lula’ spoke for workers only, the ‘President Lula’ works for the entire 180 million Brazilian people. How can the Brazilian president have the same speech as the union leader?”
This exchange was part of an interview with a news outlet during his visit to South Korea last week, where he attended the Sixth Global Forum on Reinventing Government.
The transformation from union leader to president is fortunate for new supporters who came to support the Brazilian president after he was elected. But to supporters who voted for the president when he was a candidate, his change in speech will be considered a violation of his campaign pledge.
One member of the latter is James Petras, an American sociologist and dependency theorist who has worked with the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement.
He expressed his bitter disappointment with the Lula administration, saying, “The policies over the past 25 years, particularly those before the present Lula administration came into power, have nothing to do with those of the present government or major future plans. Without paying proper attention to this fact and with the prejudices conceived in the past, supporters of Lula at home and abroad are praising him excessively and irrationally while projecting their deep wishes onto the new government.”
In our situation in Korea, where reformist lawmakers and pragmatist lawmakers are exposing the facts of the past, using even vulgar words, to pre-empt slogans for reform, what additional prejudices would they need?
Mr. Petras assailed Brazilian politics by saying, “Countless cases can be found in the history of presidents who started as liberals with a poor family background and ended up being rich reactionaries.”
In the forum last week, President Roh Moo-hyun declared, “The South Korean government made such a significant progress toward a corruption-free, transparent society in that there is no collusion between politics and business any longer.”
Though we should wait and see how his administration pans out, it is true that the Korean people were greatly embarrassed to hear his remarks in a situation where Mr. Roh is fending off a series of scandals: the Korea National Railroad scandal involving a failed investment in a Russian oil field, suspicions over the Haengdam island resort development and controversy over the Blue House’s abuse of power.
These “national corruptions” are nothing new; just the players and objects have changed. The nature of the collusion between politics and business is as it always was, but things have turned for the worse ― public corporations, instead of private companies, colluded with the government and “actual power holders” were behind the botched projects. Perhaps public corporations may have looked less sophisticated than private companies and so their money may have appeared easier to swindle.
Paradoxically, the atmosphere for reform in our society played a role in the corruption scandals. If they become objects of reform, private companies would rather choose a way that would cost them less.
Also, most executives at public companies would try to finish their term of office without causing problems by siding with conservatives rather than becoming reformists, especially when their authority diminishes as the demand for deregulation grows bigger and the voice of labor unions becomes louder.
The state-run Korea National Railroad’s implementation of the oil field project and the Korea Highway Corporation’s construction of leisure facilities are as strange as a bank’s attempt to run a fish shop.
However rich the railroad corporation may be, how could it pay $1.7 million in honorariums and penalties? However powerful the highway corporation may be, how could it write an actual letter of guarantee for payment so that the Korea Post and the Korea Teachers Credit Union could buy up to $830 million worth of bonds issued overseas by a subsidiary of a bankrupt company?
There is clearly a problem with the argument that the remarks as a union leader and those as the president should be different. People cannot impeach the president for violating his campaign pledge, nor can they leave the country as it is in confusion.
We can hardly expect the president to have the wisdom of solving knotty problems all at once. There is an even more painful problem, and that is the case where there is no difference between the words of the labor activist and the words of the president when they should clearly be different.
Of course, the reverse case can also be a problem: The words of the president that should not be changed end up stirring confusion. If President Roh can settle this confusion today as he serves the latter half of his term, his administration would run much more smoothly. He should reflect on what words should be the same and what should be different from those he uttered in the past.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Joseph W. Chung
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